Anyone who has followed my features will know that the majority of my time on the bank is spent fishing commercial fisheries in a competitive capacity – I love it, and the sport on offer is simply fantastic from a modern standpoint with big money finals being the main aim for the main part of the year. However when it comes to a bit of downtime pleasure fishing on these venues is not my number one choice! Going back to my roots and doing something a little different is without any doubt at all, a lot more appealing and it’s exactly that we are going to be bringing you in this mini-series detailing some of my River sessions and explaining the tactics you need to try on your next trip! I grew up fishing on rivers and natural venues before concentrating on the match scene and a particular favourite of mine is my local Lower River Thames.
The River here holds some massively fond memories for me and I’ve experienced some jaw-dropping sport in the past that I honestly don’t think can be found anywhere else in the country. Big fish of virtually every species reside in this deep ( and for the most part) slow moving part of the river the angling possibilities are endless, if you could choose to fish somewhere for the rest of your life it would be a venue like this – you could never get bored! Going back to my Match Fishing background there is one species that I really enjoy catching, Bream! The Lower Thames holds some massive shoals of bream and the average size of the fish when conditions are right is a real eye opener there really are some true bin lids to be caught. For me this style of fishing is all about pure enjoyment, no records, no pressure and no pots of cash – complete isolation from what I spend the majority of my time doing on the bank I thrive on it and I don’t mind admitting that I have had many bleary-eyed days at work following a night on the tools hauling slabs, that aside I find it a fantastic way of finding my mojo again when a little down on my luck in the draw-bag on the match scene.
The first thing I cottoned onto when I first started fishing the River seriously was how tough it was during the middle of the day I was literally catching just a few small fish and I was beginning to think the venue was – well, not good! It made me think that there must be a time of the day where these fish feed freely and with confidence so I set about having a series of very early mornings these first few sessions produced some decent catches and I certainly felt I was onto something. Then I decided to bite the bullet, and have a night session to see what happened. Well, the rest as they say was history and the first of a succession of huge bream hauls were confirmation enough to me that these fish indeed feed for a few hours in darkness and for an hour after first light – quite unbelievable really when you consider how many fish are present and it seems inconceivable that you could fail to catch during daylight hours! Is it the boat traffic? Is it the clear water? Who knows I honestly couldn’t tell you but what I can tell you is that a night session is highly advisable if you want to get to grips with your local river!
My tactics for fishing for river bream is very simple but I like to attack it with a proactive approach that is far removed from the ‘heave in 2 bucketful’s of groundbait and chuck over the top of it’ stereotype! My approach is based around catching in spells of 5 to 10 fish using a little and often approach when it comes to feeding, I also don’t like to leave my feeder in for too long – choosing to cast very regularly every 2 to 3 minutes this I feel is absolutely vital not only for getting plenty of bait in accurately but it’s a regular occurrence that when a big shoal of fish is present you can often get a bite within a minute of the feeder hitting the bottom – or on a good night, on the way down!
The tackle I use is very straight forward – a 12ft MAP Parabolix Feeder Rod teamed up with a 4000 size MAP P Series Reel loaded with 8lb MAP Optimum is all the hardware required, I do like to go onto heavier reel lines when fishing on the river as I mentioned I like to keep casting all night and a lighter line may wear through causing crack-offs, and no one likes setting up again in the dark! Rivers also hold plenty of snags and obstacles that could cause fish losses so this further backs up the heavy gear theory. My rig is just a running feeder rig, importantly the feeder is attached via a snap link swivel to enable me to change my feeders according to changes in the flow or the size I need to be using as a session evolves, the last 6 inches of my mainline is a twizzled loop this gives me a little bit of doubled up line which I feel gives me more strength for casting again touching on the durability factor of the gear I use for this style of fishing. I always use a 2ft hook length when breaming no longer and no shorter it seems to be spot on, I’ve experimented with this over the years but always end up back at 2ft! Hook choice is always vital and while I’m catching large weights of big bream I do favour small hooks, I only use small hook baits and I am convinced that a small hook gives greater holding power – a size 16 Kamasan B560 has got my fishing covered, tied to a robust 0.16mm MAP Power Optex line.
Choosing the right feeder for the job is something a lot of anglers don’t give enough thought at all but nearly all of the time I’ll use a cage style feeder, these allow a quick release of the bait which ties in with my constant casting method. The only other type of feeder I’ll use is a plastic open ended feeder these hold the bait better and are my number one choice when the river is pushing hard with a bit of flood water on. I honestly don’t think there is a perfect feeder that you can go and pick up off the shelf, and I modify nearly all of my cage feeders by adding some extra lead to them, this is quite important because with a heavy feeder you’re more likely to hook fish that pick up your hook bait whereas a feeder that is too light may enable the fish to drop the bait far easier.
Bait is an integral part of bream fishing and having the right groundbait mix is all important. The Thames like lots of other rivers see plenty of carp angling now and so the bream have cottoned onto the taste of fishmeal based baits with this is mind I make Bait-Tech Kult Sweet Fishmeal the base of my mix with an equal quantity of Bait-Tech Omen added. This gives me the best of both worlds in a sweet fishmeal mix that bream simply love, I’ve used the same mix for 3 years now and I have no intention of changing! To 4kg of mix I add 3 pints of pellets – 2 pints of Bait-Tech Micro Carp Pellets and 1 pint of 2mm Bait-Tech Special G Pellets, the different pellets are to give me varying breakdown times the carp pellets break down very quickly whereas the Special G pellets will stay in pellet form for a lot longer. To go with this I actually take very little with me, a pint of dead red maggots, a pint of casters, some 4mm Bait-Tech Carp and Coarse Pellets and a handful of live maggots. I do occasionally try Boilies and corn but I’ve caught more bream on maggots than any other bait with three maggots or four dead reds being the best hook baits.
For my session for the feature I kicked my swim off by introducing 20 small 40mm balls of groundbait made using a Nash Ball Maker this is a great bit of kit that ensures accuracy when feeding by a catapult. These went in mid river, fishing mid river is vital in my opinion its where these fish live – in the deepest water. Kicking off with three maggots on the hook I had to wait around 45 minutes for my first bite, only a small fish of around 3lb but where there is one there is always more! Once darkness descended properly the odd fish started to roll out near where I’d fed so it was only going to be a matter of time before things kicked off – by 11pm I was catching regularly in bursts as expected with fish averaging around 5lb, awesome sport and something I never tire of! Every 5th fish I simply put another 5 40mm balls out to keep things ticking over throughout the night and by regular casting I was putting together another big weight. A few of the fish I caught were real bin lids too with a couple around the 8lb mark, and I have no doubts that doubles are there to be had under the right conditions. Calling time on the session at around 5am once it got light – It actually got light at around 4.30am and from then on I never had another bite except from Roach and Dace, quite incredible – it was time to get the photos done, with 25 bream in the net and another 15 put back it had been another great evenings fishing.
Fishing at night isn’t for everyone but for the angler who wants to do something different and mix their fishing up a bit and maybe unlock a few secrets of their local venues along the way it is an absolute must!